Cursive script, also known as running hand, is a particular style of Chinese calligraphy. It went through four stages of development: cursive clerical, semicursive, regular cursive and wild cursive. It began in the Han Dynasty, aiming to facilitate handwriting and increase efficiency. The first popular form of cursive script was cursive clerical. Later, calligraphers added or subtracted the number of strokes to turn the cursive clerical into semi-cursive. Toward the end of the Han Dynasty, Zhang Zhi (?-192?) allegedly rid semi-cursive script of cursive clerical vestiges, linking the final strokes of the character above with the beginning stroke of the following character, eliminating certain radicals and borrowing strokes from neighboring parts to form regular cursive script (commonly known as “cursive hand” today). During the Tang Dynasty, Zhang Xu and Huai Su (725-785, or maybe 737-799), regarded as master calligraphers of the cursive style, gave full expression of their feelings and thoughts, and wrote their characters in a freer and more uninhibited manner. Their execution of strokes featured continuous stretches, gracefully circular movement, flowing contours, amazingly bold combinations of characters and a wide variety of patterns, leading to the emergence of “wild” cursive script. People of later generations also called the latter “great cursive” as opposed to “small cursive,” which in fact referred to regular cursive.
Zhang Xu is a master of cursive-hand calligraphy with no other interests. Whenever he experienced heart-stirring joy, anger, awkwardness, poverty, sorrow, grief, pleasure, resentment, yearning, drunkenness, boredom, or injustice, he would unleash his feelings through cursive script. (Han Yu: A Few Words in Farewell to Gaoxian, an Eminent Monk)
Although Prime Minister Zhang (Shangying) loved writing in cursive style, he was never truly good at it. Many laughed at him, but he didn’t mind much. One day, a few poetic lines occurred to his mind, so he asked for his brush and ink and started to write in a lively and vigorous flourish. Then he asked his nephew to copy down those lines for him. Puzzled by some characters with strangelooking strokes, the young man paused and asked what they meant. The Prime Minister studied them carefully, but they were unintelligible to him as well. So he scolded the boy: “Why hadn’t you asked me earlier, before I’d forgotten what those characters were?” (Shi Huihong: Evening Talks at Lengzhai)